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Hotels: ‘Resorts Bubbles’ kept guests happy, island safe

LIHU‘E — The Kaua‘i resort bubble program burst Thursday in coordination with the county’s move to Tier Five of its six-tier COVID-19 guidelines chart.

Resort and hotel managers who utilized “bubbles” reported satisfaction with the three-day quarantine program as it drew to a close.

“It was a great program, considering that was the choice we had,” Jim Braman of The Cliffs, a 202-unit resort in Princeville, told The Garden Island. “It allowed us to stay open. It allowed us to keep our employees working and engaged. As a result of that, we did not lose employees or need to scramble to rehire, like a lot of people are right now, which was wonderful.”

The resort bubble program had been in effect since December, when Kaua‘i opted out of the state’s pre-travel-only Safe Travels testing program, having cited dozens of people arriving with negative test results who then tested positive for the novel coronavirus days after their arrival.

To prevent community spread, the resort bubble program required travelers to quarantine for at least 72 hours before receiving a second, post-travel test, as recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

However, so-called “bubblers” were not restricted to their rooms. Using county “enhanced-movement-quarantine” protocols, participating resorts were able to offer visitors some on-site mobility while remaining compliant with a slew of health, safety, security and enforcement requirements.

Those living in The Cliffs bubble had access to all amenities available on the 22-acre property, according to Braman, who said the resort worked to make life as pleasant as possible for its quarantining clientele.

“We did our best to bring in food trucks, and we had grocery-delivery services and things like that, so people did not have to cook in, all the time,” he said.

Not all bubblers were tourists, according to Sharolyn Kawakami, of the 121-unit Ko‘a Kea Hotel &Resort in Koloa.

“A lot of it, at the beginning, was kama‘aina who needed to come back to work,” she said. “We had multiple kama‘aina guests who actually went through that program, and that was good, because they could stay separate from their families, quarantine for three days and then just go back to work or back to their families.”

Although Kaua‘i rejoined the Safe Travels program in April, individuals who received pre-travel COVID-19 tests not recognized by Safe Travels (or failed to receive their results prior to their flight) had the opportunity to avail themselves at a resort bubble.

“At that point … we had very few bubblers that came and stayed with us,” said Joseph Kuharic, of the 40-unit Hanalei Colony Resort in Ha‘ena. “We saw our bubble reservations kind of evaporate, or pop, if you will.”

Bubblers were required to wear electronic, location-monitoring devices for the duration of their stay, by county mandate.

“It was really pretty easy to monitor them,” Braman said. “We didn’t have any trouble throughout the entire thing, with people trying to leave the property or anything like that.”

The high-tech security measures represented a significant outlay for participating resorts. To offset the cost, some resorts charged guests for use of the monitors.

“We didn’t charge the guests, but they did put down a ($1,000) deposit,” Kawakami said.

Thursday’s resort bubble program cut coincided with the state’s elimination of a mandatory pre-travel test or quarantine period for domestic travelers fully vaccinated within the U.S. and its territories.

“Now that vaccine exceptions are going into effect, and our hotels are near capacity, the program is no longer necessary,” Mayor Derek Kawakami said in a press release earlier this week. “Mahalo to all the resorts who participated in keeping our community safe and opening until vaccines became widely available.”

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Scott Yunker, general assignment reporter, can be reached at 245-0437 or syunker@thegardenisland.com.
Source: The Garden Island

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